St. Bernadette Church in Fall River to close August 5

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Parishioners at St. Bernadette’s in Fall River were informed during Masses last weekend by parochial vicar Father James Fitzpatrick that the church will be closing this summer.

 The parish formed in 2012 from the merger of the neighboring Notre Dame de Lourdes and Our Lady of Immaculate Conception parishes in the so-called Flint section of the city will be shuttered August 5. 

Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., will join parishioners to celebrate a final Mass at the church on that date.

 Citing serious challenges including a steady decline in Mass attendance, mounting debt, and an unanticipated loss of outside income, Bishop da Cunha conveyed the news via a letter to parishioners that was read at Masses by Father Fitzpatrick.

The bishop recounted that a Parish Planning Team along with Father Fitzpatrick had presented to parishioners at a March assembly the numbers that indicated the strain on parish finances and reflected the steady decline in Mass attendance and Sacramental participation.

It was also explained that parish offertory giving makes up only one-third of needed revenue for St. Bernadette Parish to operate and maintain its facilities with the remainder of support coming from bingo proceeds and rental income from the YMCA for its use of a parish building. St. Bernadette’s Parish reportedly has almost $3 million in debt, and the church is in need of repairs estimated at $1.5 million.

“And a few weeks ago we learned that the YMCA had lost their grant and would need to shut down their program resulting in the loss of $66,000 in annual income,” shared Bishop da Cunha in his letter.

 “It is the culmination of these many challenges that brings us to where we are today — having to make the most difficult of decisions, to move toward closing St. Bernadette,” Bishop da Cunha wrote. “In consultation with the Presbyteral Council of our diocese and enlisting their full support, we have come to the conclusion that this is the best course of action to serve the long-term pastoral needs of the people of Fall River.”

According to 2016 statistics published in the 2017-2018 Catholic Directory for the Fall River Diocese, St. Bernadette’s Parish reported 1,092 parishioners, but only celebrated one Marriage that year, 15 Baptisms, 11 First Communions, nine Confirmations, and 33 funerals. There were just 46 students registered for Religious Education.

The church can accommodate 700 people, but Mass attendance averages about 100 people and attendance at the combined four weekend Masses barely exceeds 400.

Between now and August, the bishop plans to meet with parochial administrator Father Jay Maddock, Father Fitzpatrick, and members of the Parish Planning Team to facilitate the closure and determine where the Sacramental records for St. Bernadette’s will be kept.

 “It was a sad weekend,” Father Fitzpatrick said. “I read the letter from the bishop, but there were no audible gasps. I think most (parishioners) knew it was coming, but it’s still sad. Then I read my transfer announcement, and I said that’s enough for one weekend.”

 Father Fitzpatrick will begin his new assignment as parochial administrator of St. Louis de France Parish in Swansea, effective June 27.

 “My goal for the next month is to make sure that everyone has a place to go,” Father Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve invited them all to come join me at St. Louis de France Parish (in Swansea) if they want. We all have to start thinking about coming together as a parish. I don’t want anyone to be left standing alone.”

 “Our last Mass at St. Bernadette will be Sunday, August 5; the parish will close that day,” Bishop da Cunha wrote in his letter. “As your shepherd, it is my intention to be here that day, to celebrate that Mass and stand with all of you and share in this moment of grief. Finally, I want us to prepare together with you, your parochial administrator, parochial vicar, and our facilitation team — for an honorable closure of St. Bernadette.

 “I want you to know that I do not take this difficult decision lightly. My heart carries the weight of your sadness in this loss, too. And, as your bishop, I will walk this road to new life with you. We will find a way that we can keep you, the beautiful people of St. Bernadette’s, and your important ministries alive and vibrant! It may feel at times like this is a herculean effort, but the Holy Spirit will lead the way.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts